Without time limits…
[b]‘On behalf of the Italian government and people, we confirm that Konstantin Kondratenko fought against the Germans, taking part in offensive operations and receiving military information…’ read the text, beautifully written on a certification card. It once belonged to a man born in the Dubrovno district of Vitebsk region[/b]The Italian partisans assumed that, as soon as their Soviet colleague returned home, after the defeat of fascist Germany, he’d be asked questions at the border camp. The certification card acted as a protective document for Kondratenko, yet was withdrawn in 1945, kept in the archives of the Directorate of the State Security Committee for Vitebsk Region. However, on the eve of the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory, they decided to send such documents to those who originally owned them, or to their relatives.
The Italian partisans assumed that, as soon as their Soviet colleague returned home, after the defeat of fascist Germany, he’d be asked questions at the border camp. The certification card acted as a protective document for Kondratenko, yet was withdrawn in 1945, kept in the archives of the Directorate of the State Security Committee for Vitebsk Region. However, on the eve of the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory, they decided to send such documents to those who originally owned them, or to their relatives.
After the war, around 50,000 people who had been forced to leave returned to Vitebsk region. Many had been used as forced labour in Germany, working at dangerous pits and mines. Some had escaped being ‘Ostarbeiters’ (‘East workers’) by running away from camps to join Western-European anti-fascist forces. Konstantin Kondratenko was among them. His story inspired state security employees to return those unique documents to their owners and relatives — since they are truly family relics.
“We found out that Kondratenko was taken prisoner, then ran away and joined the Italian partisan brigade, where he finished the war fighting,” explains the Archive Chief of the Directorate of the State Security Committee for the Vitebsk Region, Igor Sedykh. “We’ve tried to find his relatives, but, unfortunately, have failed so far. Probably, we’ll succeed via the media. However, we’ve found relatives of other countrymen transported to Germany for forced labour.”
The ceremony to mark the first transferral of documents took place on the eve of Victory Day in Novopolotsk. The photos of parents and grandparents, taken over 65 years ago, brought many a tear from relatives. In 1944, Vladimir Shimko’s father (from Glubokoe) was sent to a Berlin factory. Romuald Murashko was collecting documents relating to his mother, Leongina Stepanovna, who worked as a medical assistant in Tolochin before the war. The fascists suspected her of smuggling medicine to partisans, so sent her to Germany to treat typhoid patients. Another interesting and heroic story is that of Lidia Kontseal, aged 27 when the war began. At that time, she worked as a primary school teacher in Rossony district of Vitebsk region. It was there that she met her husband Vasily, who was the headteacher — the only person at school to have received a university education. During the occupation, their family moved to the village of Ventsovoe in Polotsk district. However, the fascists suspected Vasily of connections with partisans and shot him. His wife, who had two small children by that time, was imprisoned and interrogated before being transported to a labour camp in French Gyundang in April 1944.
“The French organised an escape,” notes her granddaughter, Yelena Kontseal, who now resides in Mogilev. “Three out of five prisoners were shot during the attempt but my grandmother managed to flee to Marseille, joining the brigade of Soviet partisans.” Her partisan commander in the north of France wrote, on May 30th 1945, that she had, without reservation, ‘proven herself to be a disciplined soldier’.
“My grandmother told us that, when the Americans liberated France, many young soldiers asked her to marry them, saying they’d help find her children, who were left with relatives in occupied territory,” notes Ms. Kontseal. “However, she decided to come home.” She didn’t return to work in school though, moving to Latvia with her common-law husband before settling in Mogilev. Their son Ernst (named in honour of the leader of the German communists, Ernst Thдlmann) bought them half of a private house.
“Before the war, my grandmother’s family was considered prosperous and lived very well,” continues Yelena. “Probably, because she lost everything, she was prone to nervous fits. In one such period, she burnt all of the photos taken of herself with General de Gaulle.” Lidia Kontseal died seven years ago and was buried at Yamnitskoe cemetery in Mogilev. State Security Committee officers from Vitebsk have now returned her documents to her relatives.
Yelena Kontseal teaches physics in a Mogilev school and is very grateful to archivists from the State Security Committee. Several years ago, jointly with her aunt from St. Petersburg, she tried to recreate their family tree. Her grandmother’s documents arrived just at the right moment.
By Sergey Golesnik